As you'll have gathered (if you read this blog regularly), last week was an incredibly busy one for me, because I was heavily involved in the process of enrolling students for their 2009 studies. This was a new thing for me & it gave me the opportunity to think about ways to ease the enrolment process, from the student point of view. (I'm assuming that many of you are planning on university study of some sort.) So I thought I'd put some of those thoughts here.
One key thing is that it's important to start early on working out what you intend to study. When I was a student it was reasonably common to come across people who were at uni because they couldn't work out what they wanted to do in life, so a year or so at uni seemed as good a way as any of spending their time. In those days (cue violins etc) the student allowance wasn't means-tested & pretty much everyone got one; student loans were unheard of. These days, the costs of university study probably put many people off that option.
But nonetheless, I've had a few people come in for advice who know that they want to study at uni - but aren't quite sure what it is that they want to study. Now, we can give good advice on this, but it takes a while: you need to have a really in-depth conversation to find out what someone's interested in; what it is that lights a spark for them. In the rush & pressure of enrolment-in-person, when you're aware that there's a queue growing outside the Dean's office, it's not easy to do the best possible job of this. In other words, start to think about what you might like to study - & more importantly, where you see yourself after tertiary study - while you're still at school.
This means you might talk with people who are already in careers that you find interesting: what do they enjoy about it? What did they study in order to get there? Sound out the different institutions: what do they offer in the way of courses that will take you where you want to go? Don't block off your options too early - I talk with a lot of biology students who see medicine as the only realistic career choice, & when I ask why, often the answer is that they 'want to help people'. But other choices can let you do that too - genetics/molecular biology (eg genetic underpinnings of some diseases; development of new drug regimes); the whole biotech field; environmental restoration & sustainability - they all impact on people's health, well-being, & enjoyment of life.
And then, when you're planning your studies, think top-down. What subjects should you specialise in, to achieve your goals? What should you take in the third year of your degree, to acheive that particular focus? OK, now, what do you need in 2nd year, to allow you to take those 3rd-year papers? And what does that mean for your first-year selection? This may sound a bit daunting, but it's important - every so often I meet someone who needs to take a couple of extra first-year papers because they didn't quite think that initial selection through. (Or because they found that they really weren't so keen on that original choice, because they'd found a new area that fascinated them, but that's really a different story.)
Your teachers can give you some advice here, but you should also contact the different universities & talk with people like me. This is because we're going to be that much more familiar with our various offerings. This is also important if you're thinking of starting your studies at one place, & then moving to another. Ask someone at that second institution about what papers would be the best preparation for going there (after all, I can tell you a whole lot about our various offerings, but I'm not the best person to give you advice relating to programs at Auckland or Massey, for example).
And choose an area that you enjoy, that you're interested in. Everyone has 'down' patches in their studies, but you'll come through that much better if you're following your own particular passion :-)